NC STUDY REVEALS THAT LAW ENFORCEMENT WANT TO REFORM PARAPHERNALIA LAWS


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

January 8, 2013 

CONTACT: Tessie Castillo

tswopecastillo@gmail.com

(919) 809-7718

 

A 2012 IRB approved study surveyed officers in 61 departments throughout the state on their attitudes towards syringe decriminalization, removing syringes from the list of drug paraphernalia. Of the officers surveyed, 9.5% had suffered an accidental needle-stick or cut on a crack pipe. These occupational hazards typically occur when an officer is searching a suspect, and can expose the officer to blood borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C.

 

Seventy-eight percent of officers surveyed expressed concern over contracting HIV or hepatitis C from a needle-stick injury, while 87 and 84% respectively, agreed that decriminalizing syringes would lower rates of HIV and hepatitis C in the community. A decisive 84% of officers reported a positive impression of syringe decriminalization, while 77% agreed that it would make the community safer. The results of the study reflect officers’ awareness of the dangers of needle-stick injuries, and the benefits of reforming paraphernalia laws, including lower disease rates, lower needle-stick rates, fewer dirty needles in the streets, and more time to direct towards more serious crimes instead of misdemeanor paraphernalia charges. Interestingly, the survey also included officers in South Carolina, a state where syringes are already decriminalized. The rate of needle-stick injuries in South Carolina was half the rate in North Carolina, where paraphernalia laws are much stricter.

 

The survey also addressed a long-standing controversy surrounding whether decriminalizing syringes would increase drug use. More than half of officers disagreed, stating that people who use drugs will use them with or without access to sterile equipment. This opinion reflects both the officers’ experience and numerous empirical studies on the relationship between syringe access and drug use that demonstrate that syringe decriminalization does not mean more drugs or more drug use.

 

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North Carolina Law Enforcement Attitudes Towards Syringe Decriminalization, 2012

 

Background:

North Carolina (NC) state policies increase the risk of law enforcement (LE) officers being a victim of a needle stick injury due to the criminalization of syringes and practices such as searching a drug user or diabetic who has hidden a syringe on their body, and is fearful of disclosing that they are carrying a syringe. States such as New Mexico, Alaska and Connecticut have decriminalized syringes. When states decriminalize syringes, LE needle sticks go down by 66% since syringe carriers no longer are fearful of disclosing they are carrying a syringe without incurring any costs. 

 

Methods:

IRB was approved. The aim was to determine if NC LE officers supported syringe decriminalization. Since January 2012, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) staff trained NC LE officers of in 61 LE departments for approximately one hour of continuing education. Voluntary and anonymous pre-post tests were administered to the LE officers. LE officers were asked to rank their attitudes via 4-point Likert scale (e.g., strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree). Results are preliminary and are derived from post-test data. Ongoing data collection will continue over the course of 2013.

 

Results:

 

Table 1. Reported Occupational Injuries Among LE

 

N

Frequency

%

Ever stuck by a needle

263

18

6.8%

Ever cut by a crack or methamphetamine pipe

262

7

2.7%

Among those stuck or cut, those worried about contracting HIV or HCV

23

18

78%

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics

Average Age

39

Average Years in force

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two hundred eighty-seven LE officers were enrolled in the continuing education and pre-post test. The average time of experience at the time of training was 10 years. Among those trained, 18 LE officers (6.8%) had been stuck by a needle and seven (2.7%) LE officers had been cut by a crack or methamphetamine pipe. Two LE officers had been stuck by a needle as well as a crack or methamphetamine pipe. Among the LE officers who suffered either of these occupational injuries, 18 LE officers (78%) worried about contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

 

Eighty-two percent and 84% of the LE officers at least “agree” that contracting HIV and HCV, respectively, from an infected needle was a big concern.

 

Over half (52%) “agree” and over a third (35%) “strongly agree” that syringe decriminalization would reduce HIV.

 

Over half (59%) “agree”  and a quarter “strongly agree” that syringe decriminalization would reduce HCV.

 

The study found a strong willingness of LE officers to don needle stick resistant gloves if they have access to them with almost all (96%) stating they at least “agree”.

 

Overall, the impressions of the LE officers of syringe decriminalization were positive with almost half (48%) “agree” and over a third (36%) “strongly agree.

 

Finally, over half (55%) of LE officers “agree” and over a fifth (22%) “strongly agree” that syringe decriminalization would make communities safer.

 

Discussion:

LE officers reported support of syringe decriminalization as a means of reducing occupational injuries and maintaining the safety of the community. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Lorentz et al. reported the average number of LE officers who were a victim of either a needle stick or cut from a crack or methamphetamine pipe over the lifetime of their career was nearly 30%. Although only 9.5% of the LE officers have suffered either one of these occupational hazards, the average number of years in LE service (10 years) suggests a potential for an increase during the remainder of their careers.

 

Although LE officers reported strong willingness to don needle stick resistant gloves, this remains only a partial solution at best. The average cost for needle stick resistant gloves range from $80-$200 per pair. Therefore, providing needle stick resistant gloves to LE officers in NC would deplete the LE budget thereby underscoring the lack of sustainability. Conversely, syringe decriminalization does not cost the state or local government money. Training for LE officers and the community on policy changes would be covered by the NCHRC and thus, is a fiscally prudent option.

 

Conclusion:

LE officers offer an invaluable insight into their concerns regarding occupational hazards. Not only were the LE officers extremely concerned with contracting HIV and HCV, but also felt syringe decriminalization would reduce these diseases. Overall, the impression of syringe decriminalization was viewed as positive means to increasing the safety of the community.